Asking me about my autistic experience is like asking me about my life. What does existing feel like? Do you want the hurt version, or the autism acceptance version, or a nice summary? What does existing as a stream feel like? What does existing as a pebble feel like? What does existing as a person in a foreign country, where no one seems to think you’re foreign, feels like? What does existing as a neurotypical feel like? I wouldn’t know. I’m not one. But I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was.
So what is my experience as an autistic person? Well, it’s only really just started. I don’t really know what I would say. I can tell you I’ve accepted myself more, and understood myself more – and I have. Have I understood where I am in the world more? Not really. Have I understood why I have to exist in places that hurt my ears? Or why I can make music out of a dryer tumbling upstairs? Or why I could hear people’s conversations from quite a distance, unlike most people (unbeknownst to me at the time)?
No, I haven’t really understood it.
I will answer your question, but it is a complicated one.
How is it to be me?
Well, when you are at your best, your most peaceful place, you are usually alone. You are by the beach, or by the forest, or in a hallway where people don’t generally stop to make small talk. You are in quiet – at least, some version of quiet. Nothing is ever quiet. You hear your computer fan whirring, clicking really. You hear someone talking on a tv down the hall. You hear the radio clearly, like it is right up to your ear shouting at you, as you’re trying to concentrate (it is two rooms away). Even the ocean is quite loud. You hear a lovely, soft, calm song. You have your headphones at a comfortable volume, which means they are down so low that your husband can’t hear anything out of them, if you want him to listen to something. You constantly adjust the volume during commercials, when stopped at a stoplight in your car, or when playing a video from a different site – things just get louder after a while, all the time. It gets frustrating to have to explain this to people. Sometimes you just grit your teeth and stay in pain instead. Sometimes you’re too tired to even try to ask.
You stay up late just so you can be alone in your own headspace, just so you can have a moment of peace. What looks like isolation to others, is nearly always comforting to you. Late at night, you are not required to keep communication skills in the back of your head, or to make sure to look at people’s faces, or make sure to actually speak or answer questions, and respond in a timely manner. You are not required to play on their terms. This is when you write about things that pop into your head, so you don’t focus on the fan whirring, or the conversation on the tv, that is clearly audible to you if you concentrate just a tiny bit more. You try not to concentrate more but you can’t help but want to know what the voices are saying. You can’t really tune them out, but you can try to sort them into the sort of mess of sound. Sometimes this happens to your advantage – sometimes you can listen to two conversations at once and get nearly all of the context correct, without getting overwhelmed, keeping all the words in your head and playing them back with a one second lag time. It helps when you don’t have to speak. You feel like you have an amazing ability on those days. You always assumed other people could keep multiple voices in their head too, but it seems to be a lot harder for other people to keep up with.
The best thing about coming home is hearing the birds chirping, watching the trees, and hearing the rustle of leaves from the squirrels. You usually track the squirrels as they run up the trees. Going to the park and sitting on a bench, you’re able to notice all of the small butterflies that land near your feet as you’re reading. You marvel at them, such intricate designs for nature to create. Life is a marvel. I sit quiet and still so they stay next to me, until someone eventually comes running by, hitting their feet hard enough to disturb the butterfly. I don’t want my anger or frustration to taint the awe that I’m able to grasp in my life. I’ll always wish that I could’ve known I was autistic sooner – that I could’ve had an identity, had higher self-worth, not felt so alone, most commonly when I was amongst people; not felt like everyday was a performance, and to fail meant to fail as a human being. Life is still marvelous when you simply take a look around. It really only takes a few seconds. And being me allows me to experience that. If that means wearing headphones all the time, and dealing with people’s confusion or weird looks – so be it. I’m not weird. I’m just autistic. And, most days, it’s marvelous.
27 September 2018